For years now, you've been hearing about sommeliers' love affair with Riesling. You get it: German wine is great with food. It's versatile and complex. It has the acidity to cut through rich, creamy dishes and the fruit extract to curb the intense spiciness of many Asian foods. It's great for warm-weather sipping and is one of the first examples any geek cites when trying to explain the notion of "minerality." But which German wines are, like, the best ones?
The Mosel—a river valley that cuts through western Germany and runs perpendicular to the Rhein—is one of the most dramatic winegrowing regions in the world due to its impossibly steep, slate-laced slopes. That's where a large proportion of the country's most concentrated and characterful bottles hail from, including a growing number of natural-leaning Rieslings from producers who place site- and soil-expression first and foremost over sweetness.
I've culled 7 wines from the Mosel's hippest growers in range of styles, from sparkling to dry to fruity (that's how Germans refer to their off-dry wines) to rosé and even red. Consider these the new benchmarks.
NV Peter Lauer Riesling Sekt Brut ($42)
Florian Lauer farms vines in prime terroirs in the Saar—a subregion named for a small tributary to the larger Mosel river. His dry-tasting Rieslings have developed a cult following over the last few years, since they're luscious yet crystalline, smoky and endlessly layered. So it's no surprise that his sparkling version is one of the best.
2014 Immich-Batterieberg 'C.A.I.' Riesling Trocken ($20)
When Gernot Knollman revived the historic Immich-Betterieberg estate in 2009, his wines became a sensation seemingly overnight. He farms without pesticides or herbicides on dramatically steep slopes and vinifies in a mix of old fuders (traditional German barrels) and stainless steel tanks using native yeast and low sulfur. This entry-level dry Riesling comes from young vines in the Batterieberg, or "Battered Mountain," site.
2015 Knebel 'Von den Terassen' Riesling ($28)
Named for the terraced vineyards it's blended from, this rich, savory and mineral Riesling benefits from a multitude of soils: red, grey and blue slate, quartzite and sandstone. Although not labeled "trocken," it's effectively dry—and bolder than many Rieslings from the Mittelmosel due to the relatively warmer sites and to the short maceration on the skins that Matthias Knebel carries out for most of his wines.
2014 Clemens Busch 'Vom Roten Schiefer' Riesling ($28)
Biodynamic vintners Clemens and Rita Busch have been leaders in the movement toward natural practices in the Mosel (and in all of Germany, for that matter). Rather than delineate between their wines in terms of sweetness, they bottle site-specific and soil-specific wines, indicating the type of slate the vines grow in—blue, grey or red—by the color of the capsule on the bottle.
2015 Weiser-Künstler Riesling Feinherb ($20)
Konstantin Weiser and Alexandra Künstler farm their tiny (10-acre) estate organically and biodynamically, performing all vineyard work by hand. They make great Prädikat (off-dry) and dry Rieslings, but this entry-level bottling is just as exciting: delicately fruity and spice- and herb-laced, finishing clean and lime-like.
2015 Stein Rosé Trocken ($22)
Germany is not really known for its rosé, but if you're in the market for one, let this bottle be it. Ulli Stein has developed a following as much for his lean, racy wines as for his eccentric personality and passion for abandoned, impossible-to-farm sites. Here, he blends Spätburgunder (the German term for Pinot Noir) with tiny portions of Cabernet and Merlot. It's crisp, red currant-tinged and ready for apéritif hour.
2014 Falkenstein 'Niedermenniger Herrenberg' Spätburgunder Spätlese ($21)
Another Saar family known for their high-acid dry Rieslings, the Webers of Hofgut Falkenstein also make one of Germany's finest reds. Wild yeast-fermented in old wooden fuders, it's Pinot Noir with a Riesling-like frame: vibrant, refreshing and mouthwatering.